Mimesis Law
27 January 2022

The Brutality of Life: Confronting Ugly Truth for No Reason

Oct. 23, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Glenn Edward Baxter intentionally drove his SUV over an embankment and into a lake, killing his wife and three young children. An Arizona Republic article brought up some grisly details:

Mr. Baxter, it seems, wasn’t content to just take out himself or his wife, if police suspicions are true. Three-year-old Reighn, 2-year-old Nazyiah and Zariyah, just one year old, also drowned as they hung there, upside down, in the middle of the night, in a few feet of water.

Apparently, it was too much for some readers to bear, so they complained. The article’s author then wrote another piece defending her decision to go into such detail about the deaths of the children. She painted it in the context of shedding light on the evil truth about domestic violence:

It’s a gruesome picture, I know. What women and some men — possibly someone you know — endure every day behind closed doors is gruesome. What Danica and those children endured is gruesome.

This – an SUV turned upside down in a lake and four innocent lives ended – is what domestic violence looks like.

It’s distasteful and it’s uncomfortable and we dare not look away.

Don’t look away.

That struck me at first as logical, but as I thought about it more, the whole thing made less and less sense.

What exactly is not looking away going to accomplish? Awful people do awful things. Domestic violence is one of those things. What happened to those little kids is absolutely tragic, but how is pondering the details going to change anything?

I can understand discussing in intricate detail all of the gruesome details of the death penalty. Listing exactly what the condemned will feel, both emotionally and physically, and what actually happens during the process is important. After all, we have decided as a society to permit the state to murder people we feel are deserving. Knowing the details is a big deal because, if people are upset by it, then we have the power to stop it. There’s no question about that. We as a society are fully capable of stopping state-sanctioned murder right this moment if we were so inclined.

The same is true of the deaths of innocents in foreign conflicts. We could prevent there ever being another hospital or school bombed by a drone if we wanted. Perhaps hearing about the fate of the poor sick people and children maimed or killed by our actions overseas will encourage us to change our policies. If so, news outlets should report away. We should hear about the carnage in excruciating detail. It may be important, even essential, that we do, in fact.

A senseless domestic violence murder-suicide carried out by a husband against his family, on the other hand, is a different sort of thing. We do not have the ability to stop it. There is no possible way any amount of obsessing over an incident like this is going to do any good for anyone involved.

It’s unlikely to further the greater good, either. Are we going to pass more laws? Are we going to push to make all domestic violence a felony? Create some new domestic violence task force? Take all sorts of other extreme measures and name them in honor of the poor wife and children that monster killed?

By its very nature, domestic violence is something that typically happens behind closed doors. We aren’t going to nip it in the bud and eradicate it. No amount of reporting is going to stop it. We can only hope to take reasonable preventative measures and provide just punishment to people who do it and do not kill themselves.

The truth, I suspect, is that the real reason for reporting the nasty details of how Baxter’s family suffered before their deaths is the same reason why we slow down to peek at an accident on the highway. We aren’t doing it to keep the issue of traffic fatalities in the spotlight. It isn’t because it’s going to have some sort of positive effect, spur us to solve the scourge of dangerous driving or something like that. It’s because we’re human, and pretty much all of us are imbued to some degree with a certain morbid curiosity.

In the case of what Baxter did, we don’t care about the facts because knowing them and thinking long and hard about them isn’t going to lead to anything that will make the situation better. What are we going to do, dig him up and prosecute his dead body?

Unfortunately, I may have spoken too soon. In an article entitled “Montini: Put the dead Tempe Town Lake killer on trial,” also in the Arizona Republic, the author discusses a suggestion that could only come from a citizen of my fair state:

The caller said, “People will say it’s a waste of money to try a dead guy, or that it’s vindictive, but I don’t think so. I think it’s a way of getting answers and getting some justice for the victims.”

And what about after? I asked. What happens if we find this guy guilty of intentionally killing his family by driving his SUV into Tempe Town Lake?

“Then the SOB gets buried in a special cemetery that we set aside somewhere in the county for guys who do stuff like that,” the caller said. “Some place really crappy. They don’t get a head stone. They get a number over the grave. They get nothing but dirt. They don’t get to be buried near people who lived good lives and didn’t hurt anybody. They get buried with other people going to hell.”

A cemetery of the damned?

“That’s it,” the caller said. “I like that name. I’m tired of killers who commit suicide getting away without having to pay for what they did. You know what I mean?”

I do.

Killing themselves becomes a murderer’s way of not having to face us, not giving us the satisfaction of bringing him to justice. It leaves us with questions. It adds a sense of frustration to our grief. Should we let them get away with that?

“It should be a real trial,” the caller said. “I believe taxpayers would go along with that. And then if they’re found guilty they get buried in that ‘Cemetery of the Damned.’ I really like that name. You should put that online and see if people go along with it.”

Dammit Arizona, I give up. It’s satire, I hope, but there’s always some truth in there someplace.

Gory details get people upset, and upset people are driven to do something. Anything. Sometimes, the emotional pull leads to something good. In the case of the tragedy at Tempe Town Lake, the only place it can lead is to the absurd. We can pretend we’re looking for some greater good, but it’s really just because of the way we are.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Keith
    23 October 2015 at 8:54 am - Reply

    A senseless domestic violence murder-suicide carried out by a husband against his family, on the other hand, is a different sort of thing. We do not have the ability to stop it

    Assuming this may be true for a particular instance, do you really think it’s true in the aggregate? That there are no programs to be created that can assess early warning signs and help those in potentially dangerous situations from receiving support before they drive an SUV into a lake and become a family annihilator?

    I’m not a mental health professional, but it strikes me as a bit off to say there’s nothing that can be done. And if that’s the case, the reporting serves the same purpose as it does for the death penalty or any other advocacy.

    • shg
      23 October 2015 at 9:47 am - Reply

      What part of the post-murder details have any potential to contribute to early warning programs? He’s not saying nothing can be done to identify problems, but that the lurid details offer nothing of value and only serve to inflame anger and passion. That helps no one.

      • Thomas
        23 October 2015 at 10:59 am - Reply

        I wouldn’t say that it helps no one. It helps the activists who rely on pushing those buttons to move their agenda by getting some response other than the “Meh” they would otherwise get. Other than that, yeah, you nailed it.

      • Keith
        28 October 2015 at 3:14 pm - Reply

        The details don’t. The author isn’t using the details as evidence supporting her argument, but as a prop supporting her cause.

        I’d love to live in a world where arguments always win based on their merits, but as Matt states, people have slowed down for many an accident and penned many newspaper stories because they satisfy some other urge. Yet, not everyone does the same behavior for the basest reasoning and some reporters have causes. A google search shows that Laurie Roberts has been writing about domestic violence crimes for a while now. If she wants to harness the raw emotion of isolated incidents as a call to action for programs that, rationally, wouldn’t help the deceased, I can see a potential benefit in the fire lit in a sympathetic public.

  • Scott Jacobs
    23 October 2015 at 10:56 am - Reply

    “It’s satire, I hope, but there’s always some truth in there someplace.”

    Poe’s Law is a harsh mistress…

  • William Mettler
    28 October 2015 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    Agree with the author.
    But, the question is for how long the abuse existed in the family and what steps the wife did or didn’t take to protect herself.